Cambridge SoundWorks Radio 705
Somewhere back in the dusty corridors of time, in a house in New Jersey, a child found an old radio in the basement. It was a Sears Silvertone with a dark brown plastic chassis. No FM, just AM, and therefore not of much interest to the increasingly music-aware child. But he--oh, all right, I--was fascinated by the tubes inside. Unlike all the other radios in the house, which immediately started blaring when turned on, this one took time to warm up. When ready to play, its single speaker emitted a rich tone. Not exactly a silver tone. More of a chocolate tone. But I did love it, and was sorry when it suddenly disappeared from the house, as so many artifacts of my childhood did in those days.
Perhaps it was the child in me that responded to the Cambridge SoundWorks Radio 705 at the 2007 CES (having somehow missed its 2006 CEDIA debut). The display piece was mute, amid the noise of the show floor, but its rounded body reminded me of the Silvertone. And my nostalgic impulse was reinforced when the review sample came in a dark color, onyx (in other words, black). Arctic white and silver white versions are also available.
The 705 is an analog AM/FM radio, period. It does not have a clock (though it does have a sleep timer). Nor does it support over-the-air HD Radio or either of the satellite radio networks. As an NPR addict who actively dislikes heavily compressed digital sound, I had no problem with listening in analog. Good FM analog radio can sound quite nice, and I have some audiocassettes of live broadcasts to prove it. There is no set date for the end of analog radio broadcasting, as there is for analog television broadcasting, so an analog radio is not a bad investment, even now.
Our subject measures 5.13 inches high by 8.25 wide by 6.5 deep and weighs 4.25 pounds. It uses fewer than two watts in standby, seven watts RMS when playing, and 30 watts at peak power output. The single monaural speaker sits in a custom basket that eliminates bolt holes. For that reason, it is 2.5 inches wide--though if it were measured in the standard manner across bolt holes, it would be 3.5 inches. The driver is assisted by a port at the bottom rear of the molded plastic enclosure.
The 705 is fancier than the Silvertone. And easier to tune. Its tuning dial operates in a 6:1 ratio, requiring large rotations to move up or down frequencies, ideal for fine tuning. Like the marvelous Tivolis, it uses an LED to reveal the strongest tuning position. In a twist I haven't seen before, however, the LED at the edge of the dial has been joined by two more.
The green one in the middle glows when you're tuned in to something. The amber ones above and below light only when you're at the upper or lower edges of the frequency, adding visual confirmation to the audible modulation of noise. When you see green, and no amber, the job is done. This makes the radio even easier and more pleasurable to use. Surprisingly, even marginal green-and-amber tuning positions often sound good. A switch on the back selects between the internal and (supplied) external FM antennas. The AM antenna is only internal.
Volume adjustment is a knob (as the Lord intended), not buttons. The tone knob is useful mainly from its center click-stop to its treble-hiking maximum clockwise setting. It's amazing how many compact radios lack this useful feature, so familiar in the traditional radios of days gone by. Another knob switches between AM, FM, and the auxiliary input, the obvious home for your iPod or iPod-substitute. The power button is an LED. Press it quickly and it glows green as the radio comes to life.
This radio wants to sleep with you (demonstrating its taste, or at least its compassion). Hold down the power button for a couple of seconds and it glows amber instead of green, triggering a 30-minute sleep cycle. The tuning dial has a faint backlight that's nearly invisible by day but helpful at night.
I placed the 705 in a spot usually occupied by a Proton 320. (A 1982-vintage classic. I own two, one of which I rescued from a garbage pile.) The Cambridge did about as well with its internal FM antennaas as the Proton with its hardwired external antenna. Thanks to the 6:1 tuning and multiple LED indicators, the 705 made it much easier to dial in borderline stations.
Sound was extremely good. Having a tone control certainly helped. Both of New York's classical music stations, WNYC-FM and WQXR-FM, came in clearly and cleanly enough to support orchestral or chamber music (is there anything more painful than distorted violins?). My apartment is not well situated to receive the venerable talk station WINS-AM without a high level of noise, but the radio soft-peddled the dirty signal enough to support long periods of background listening.
Bass was strong with baritone voices. When it got too much so, a twist of the tone dial rebalanced booming voices with more treble. I could also dial down noise by decreasing the treble. The old Proton did have one advantage here, providing both treble and bass controls. But I never had any trouble making the 705 sound good with any kind of signal. One quirk of its design was that the port in back was plainly audible, with bass tones detaching from the speaker's direct output. This could be minimized by moving the unit away from the wall, diffusing the port's output.
The Cambridge SoundWorks Radio 705 is a wonderful little thing. If you have memories of old radios buried in your brain, the 705 will bring them back, while enhancing the analog radio listening experience with the latest and cleverest tuning technology. And if you're too young to remember anything like the old Silvertone, you still might enjoy the 705's retro chic.
Price: $119.99 from cambridgesoundworks.com.
Mark Fleischmann is the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater and tastemaster of Happy Pig's Hot 100 New York Restaurants.